Ataturk launched reforms giving Turkish women equal rights

  • Published
  • By Mehmet Birbiri
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
"Everything we see in the world is the creative work of women."
-- Ataturk

With abiding faith in the vital importance of women in society, Ataturk launched many reforms to give Turkish women equal rights and opportunities.

Turkish women were very active during the Turkish War of Independence. As the war developed, they picked up the work of the men in the fields, trundled food and ammunition to the soldiers at the front and nursed the wounded. Some even were soldiers themselves.

The full emancipation of Turkish women took place after the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. This was because Ataturk made the advancement of women a central aim of his social, religious and legal reforms by means of which he transformed Turkey into a Western Democracy. Thus, after hundreds of years of waiting and striving, Turkish women were able to realize their potential. Under the leadership of Ataturk, laws recognizing the principles of equal citizenship were passed.

In 1923 Ataturk said, "If our nation now needs sciences and knowledge, men and women must share them equally. Obviously society creates a division of labor, and in this division women should carry out their own duties as well as contribute to the general effort to improve the happiness and well-being of our society."

The adoption of a new civil law in 1926 based on the Swiss Civil Code was the most important of Ataturk's reforms which tremendously effected the status of Turkish women. Providing equality before the law, it also replaced religious marriage with civil marriage, made polygamy illegal and gave women equal rights of inheritance, guardianship of children and divorce. Previously, Turkish men could have as many as four wives at a time, and divorce them at will with no recourse or legal action.

In 1934, the Election Law passed giving women the rights of election. In the next elections held in 1935, 18 women deputies were elected to the Grand National Assembly.

He insisted on the full emancipation of women in Turkish state and society repeatedly said, "Our most urgent present task is to catch up with the modern world," and furthermore, that, "We shall not catch up with the modern world if we only modernize half the population."

Women could begin careers in law, medicine, and public services. With the gates opened under the leadership of Ataturk, we see women in all fields of life. Turkey is the very first country who had a female supreme court judge. The very first female fighter aircraft pilot was also a Turkish woman, Ataturk's adopted daughter Sabiha Gokcen. Turkey had a female prime minister as head of the government between 1993-1995.

Ataturk's liberal idealism gave feminists the opportunity to air social topics and problems such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, general patriarchal oppression, love, abortion, violence against women, war, and environmentalism.

Although he spent a major part of his life in battlefields, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was a man of peace. He said, "Unless the country's future is in danger, war is a murder." The main principle of the foreign policy of Turkey is stated by his words, "Peace at home, peace in the world."

Ataturk's heart was filled with love. Almost half a million soldiers died at Gallipoli, Turkey, during World War I. Half of them were Turks and the other half were from other nations. The speech he gave in 1934, after the war, during his visit to Gallipoli, is a great example of him being a man of peace. He said:

"Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives ... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore, rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets where they lie side by side here in this country of ours ... You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries ... Wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well."